Arkansas Seeking Measuring Stick

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Stan Heath is trying to figure out where his team is and he's not sure if Abilene Christian is on the map.

The Razorbacks play the second of two home exhibition games at 7:05 tonight against another NCAA Division II school from the Lone Star Conference.

"It's another chance for us to find out where we are," Heath said. "That's the tough part, really measuring the competition compared to what we're going to face not only in the nonconference, but in the (Southeastern Conference)."

Arkansas beat Texas A&M Commerce 72-47 last Saturday, but even comparing Abilene Christian to the Lions is difficult. The two split their pair of games last year with each winning on their home court.

Tonight is the last tune-up for Arkansas before it starts the season next Friday against Winthrop at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

The Wildcats are coached by former Heath assistant Klint Pleasant, who worked with him for a year on the Kent State staff that guided the Golden Flashes to a 30-6 record and the NCAA Tournament Elite 8 in 2002.

Pleasant was 13-14 in his first season, an improvement from the same amount of wins in the previous two seasons combined at Abilene Christian.

The Wildcats are led by a pair of seniors Rodney Lee and Tucker Piersen. The 6-foot-4 Lee averaged 18.7 points and Piersen notched 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

They also have a couple of transfers Heath is familiar with in shooting guard David Baxter from the University of Detroit and point guard Joe Carr from Central Michigan.

The fact Pleasant knows Heath's system and Texas A&M Commerce coach Sam Walker telling Heath how tough it was to get a shot against the much taller Razorbacks has the third-year Arkansas coach expecting the possibility of a slow-paced game.

"(Opponents) spend a lot of time moving the ball around, which milks up the clock and makes it hard to get additional possessions to get more scoring," Heath said. "That's something we may see quite a bit of if teams can't get a good look at the rim and force the score down lower than we'd like."

Arkansas didn't break 70 points against the Lions until the final minute of the game thanks to some poor shooting of its own from both the field and the free throw line.

The Razorbacks began the game 7 of 20 from the field and after hitting better than 80 percent of their foul shots in the Red-White game, Arkansas hit just 15 of 24 (62.5 percent) against the Lions.

Besides shooting better, Heath believes there are a couple of things Arkansas can do better to create more scoring opportunities.

One is to stop ball penetration. The Lions were 1 of 20 from 3-point range while hitting 15 of 38 from inside the arc.

Another is to create more turnovers from its fullcourt press and force a faster tempo. The Lions had a veteran backcourt and Arkansas created most of its 16 takeaways from its halfcourt defense.

"Our team really is exciting in the open court and that's the only way to do it," Heath said. "Get turnovers and force tough shots that allow you to get out and run."

Beyond the things Heath would like to see corrected tonight, there were several positives from the first exhibition game.

Arkansas committed 13 turnovers, but eight of them were offensive fouls and five were by freshman center Steven Hill, who fouled out after only nine minutes of action.

That leaves only five turnovers for Arkansas' ball handlers, who accumulated 19 assists led by six from top returning scorer Jonathon Modica, who took just four shots.

"We tried to make plays," said sophomore captain Ronnie Brewer, who had 11 points and 6 rebounds. "That's our main thing. Only having five turnovers is really good considering the wide variety of plays the coaches expect us to make."

The Razorbacks held TAMC to 31 percent shooting and Hill and fellow freshman center Darian Townes combined for nine blocked shots (five by Townes, four by Hill).

"We're doing a good job of making teams take difficult shots," Heath said. "Thirty-one percent was awesome. If we can do that, we'll win a ton of games no matter how fast the pace gets."

Other bright spots were sophomore Olu Famutimi's game highs in points, 17, and rebounds, 7.

Junior combo guard Eric Ferguson was a spark off the bench after starting 46 of his 56 career games in the last two seasons.

Ferguson had 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

Heath said Wednesday Brewer, Modica and Famutimi would start again on the perimeter but he wasn't sure about who to start at the power forward and center spots.

Junior Rashard Sullivan and Townes started last Saturday, but Heath said he may give freshman Charles Thomas a shot at the power forward with Hill or Townes at center.

Heath said Thomas was probably the fifth man in his five-man post rotation before playing Texas A&M Commerce, but may have earned more playing time with his 9 points and 6 rebounds in 21 minutes.

"I thought he played the best," Heath said. "I may throw him out there. The main thing I'm looking for is what the players do with the minutes he gets."

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